Winter In The Wheatbelt

Yenyenning Lake by Paul Amyes on
Dead trees on a winters misty morning in Yenyenning Lake. Beverley, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens, and Cokin 3 stop graduated neutral density filter and a circular polarizing filter. Exposure: 0.3 sec, F16, ISO 100.


Tales From The Riverbank

Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) on the banks of the River Avon in York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/250 s at f/6.7 ISO 800.


There’s no denying that summer and autumn here in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia is hot. The best time of day is just after sun up – the air is cool and refreshing. That is when I take Frida for her daily walk. Sometimes I also take a camera as well and on this morning I was rewarded with this yellow-billed spoonbill backlit by the sun.

Coal Mines Historic Site

Coal Mines Historic Site
The entrance to the Coal Mines Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula.

For the majority of tourists coming to the Tasman Peninsula the only reason visit is the Port Arthur Historic Site with its colonial convict history. Some will venture to Taranna for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, and a few others will head out to bush walk in the national park. Very few tourists head out past Salt River to the Coal Mines Historic Site on the North West of the Peninsula on Norfolk Bay.

Driving out through the little hamlet of Salt River I was struck by the beauty and serenity of the place. Even now in the Twenty First Century this is an isolated spot, it seems light years away from Hobart. How it must have appeared to the first settlers and convicts in early Nineteenth Century one can only surmise that it must have seemed like the very ends of the world and that home and family in England were something they would never see again. As I walked down the path into the site one could be lulled into thinking it was some kind of Antipodean Garden of Eden. There were Bennett’s wallabies grazing on the grass, small birds flew amongst the low-lying bushes, and a possum wandered lazily up to within a meter of me to check me out before shambling off to a nearby tree seemingly without a care in the world. This quickly evaporated as I started exploring the ruins.


Coal Mines Historic Site
The Coal Mines Historic site does not receive as many visitors as the Port Arthur site. Consequently the animals that live around the site almost appear to be surprised when the see visitors. This Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) took a good look at me before casually walking off along the ground seemingly without a care in the world. Tasman Peninsular, Tasmania.


The whole reason why convicts were brought here was to punish them. It wasn’t enough that they’d been sent to the Hell hole of Port Arthur and put to spirit crushing hard labour in horrendous conditions. No a new more terrible fate had to be used for those prisoners who bucked the regime. Coal was found here, if you walk along the beach you can see it just lying on the surface, smooth, black and shiny among the other pebbles lying in the sand. That meant that the seams would have been just below the surface which meant that you didn’t need complicated pit heads with lifts and pumping stations. All you needed were men with picks and shovels and a few people to supervise them. It must have seemed the perfect plan – put your trouble makers out to an even more remote spot, make them labour in incredibly harsh conditions with a horrific punishment system for those who wouldn’t toe the line, and then have them mine something that was needed badly in colony so that the scheme would pay for itself. Very ingenious. So in 1833 the coal mines were opened up. The interpretive panels tell of some of the heart wending stories of those who were sent there and the deprivations that they suffered. as I read more and more about the site the beauty of the location receded into the background and was replaced by story of man’s incredible cruelty to his fellow-man. Even in colonial times government was not capable of running an economic enterprise and making money, so in 1848 the mine was privatized, but the logistics of running such a business in such a remote location were so difficult that it was never economically viable and in just another ten years, 1858, the mine working were shut down. Some of the infrastructure was dismantled the rest was left to decay in the harsh conditions with the wooden buildings and fittings being destroyed by bush fires. The building which were constructed from stone fared better than those that were made from convict brick, which because it was not fired at high enough temperatures was soft and crumbly.


Coal Mines Historic Site
As you walk along the path the first buildings you see are the remains of the ‘the settlement’ or ‘square’. This was where the stores, the chapel, the prisoners accommodation and the punishment cells were located.


Coal Mines Historic Site
The reason that the site was established was coal. On the beach you can see lumps of coal just lying on the surface. The seams were not very deep.


Port Arthur, just down the road receives most of the tourist attention – and in many cases quite rightly so as the scale of the place, it’s location, and many of the buildings are still intact making it a tourist experience par excellence. But for me it is the Coal Mines Site that typifies the brutality of the convict era. It’s sole purpose was to strike fear into an existing convict population and to punish and brutalize them even more. Most of the colonial penal systems victims were people whose only crime was to try to alleviate the crushing poverty they were born into with criminal acts that were incredibly petty by nature – stealing food, stealing small items to exchange for food, vagrancy, non-payment of debt etc. Now nearly two hundred years later their history, their lives, their suffering has been made into a tourist industry to entertain people. What is even more puzzling is that in today’s Australia it is now considered very desirable to be able to show that you are descended from convict stock. Perhaps this should be something to ponder as we visit Tasmania’s convict heritage sites.


Coal Mines Historic Site
The Settlement at the Coal Mines Historic Site overlooks Little Norfolk Bay on the Tasman Peninsula.


Visitors to the site should take care to stay on the paths as some old shafts are still open and others have caved in leaving sink holes that unwary could fall into.

The best camera….

…is the one you have got with you. It’s an old saying but it is a truism.  I’ve always been a proponent of having a high quality pocket camera for those times when you don’t want to carry a camera. In the days of film it was my Olympus XA or XA4 (see the picture in the heading of the blog), but now it is Panasonic LX-5. The make or model is immaterial, really the main criteria is that it has to fit in my pocket and be able to produce a good quality A4 sized print.  The irony is that most of my best-selling pictures have been taken with such cameras.

Yesterday was one of those beautiful winter days that makes living in the south-west of Western Australia so worthwhile. It had been a cold clear night and we woke to a crisp morning with temperature expected to rise to 23℃ – better than some country’s summer. So my partner and I decided to walking in the Darling Range just above Perth and we walked along Piesse Brook to a place called Rocky Pool which is a picturesque little spot. Once we got there my partner decided to sit and cool off her feet in the water and I decided to take a couple of shots for the relatives such as this one:

It’s fine as a family snap shot and it records a nice moment in our lives that we can share with family members living in the UK, but pocket cameras are so good these days they are capable of so much more. I turned 180º and looked at the pool at the bottom of the small water fall. It was a pretty vista and I wanted to record it but knew that the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor was not up to recording the huge subject brightness range of the scene. Hmm! What to do? I had no graduated filters, no tripod, no cable release, just my pocket camera. So I set  exposure bracketing dialling in +/- 2 stops and handholding the camera just above the water took a series of shots while crossing my fingers. When I got home I fired up the computer and imported the pictures into Lightroom and then chose to merge them into a HDR using PhotoShop. After a bit of jiggery pokery playing around with curves and a couple of plugins I got this:

Not a great work of art but it is a pleasing shot that sums what a great time we had.

It really is a great time to be a photographer.

Just as a gentle plug a while ago I wrote and illustrated a book on walking in Perth, this walk was included. The book can be bought from tourist offices and good bookshops in Western Australia or it cane be ordered online here: